Japan 2015: Pretty Much the Best Thing Ever

I’m back in the US after a glorious two weeks in Japan. I spent most of it with my lady friend in Kagawa Prefecture on the island of Shikoku, which is down toward the southwestern end of Japan. We visited a lot of shrines and temples, and traveled a little bit up to Honshu, the large central island, visiting Okayama and later Nara, Kyoto and Osaka.

Naturally my main interest was in religion and belief. In Japan, Shinto is everywhere, stamped all over the landscape in the form of countless shrines dedicated to local spirits. Alongside Shinto, of course, is Buddhism, various flavors of which are also very well-represented in Japan. We visited some glorious temples, including the phenomenal Tōdai-ji in Nara, the home of the breathtaking Grand Buddha. I’m particularly drawn to Buddhism, and visiting these places was probably the closest I’ve ever come to something like a religious experience.

I noticed that the use of space in Japan is often different from that in the US. Things were sometimes laid out along diagonals, and buildings and whole towns seemed to spring up in nooks in the landscape in ways they typically don’t in the US. One of the most fascinating and, in my mind, beautiful aspects of sacred space in Japan is the tendency for Shinto shrines to pop up everywhere, including crammed between buildings in urban spaces. Most beautiful of all is the presence of Shinto shrines within the temple grounds of some Buddhist temples.

I took a metric ton of photos, more than I think I ever have on any trip, including during fieldwork in Ireland. Here are a few, with the caveat that I’m a pretty terrible photographer in general. A lot of these are over-saturated because I had twisted a knob on my camera to some bright color setting without realizing it. Fortunately Japan’s beautiful enough that you don’t need to be a good photographer.



Gyuki the Ox Monster

I’m in Japan, and it’s great. Obviously.

One of the many reasons why Japan is great is this happy character, known as a gyuki, or ushi-oni (“ox ogre”). (Sometimes people give “oni” as “demon,” but I don’t think that’s really accurate.) I photographed this guy at Negoroji, a temple in Kagawa Prefecture. The wiki article linked above summarizes his story.


Something something Tom Jones, something something what’s new, pussycat?